American Superbike Josh Hayes Interview

April 16, 2010
Adam Waheed
By Adam Waheed
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Yamaha American Superbike racer Josh Hayes
Motorcycle USA interviews Yamaha’s sole American Superbike rider Josh Hayes.

Yamaha’s Josh Hayes is the peoples champ—the guy you want to root for. He’s one of the nicest, most grounded racers you’ll ever meet plus he rides like a total maniac (in a good way). In fact you’ll be hard pressed to find a rider on the AMA Superbike circuit that rides with more gusto than Hayes.
Hayes, 35, hails from Mississippi and is currently in his second year with Yamaha racing a YZF-R1 in the American Superbike Championship. Last year, he was credited as the person who finally broke Yoshimura Suzuki’s multi-year-win Superbike class juggernaut when he beat seven-time AMA Superbike Champ Mat Mladin straight up at Infineon during Superbike Race 1. He went on to notch six more wins and finish second in the championship behind Mladin. Not bad for his first season on the team racing an all-new motorcycle.
This year Hayes is back at it again. Although he struggled in Daytona, he rebounded in California finishing fourth and second in the Superbike races at Auto Club Speedway last month. Just before he was set to head east for Round 3 of the American Superbike Championship this weekend in Atlanta, Motorcycle USA caught up with him at Southern California’s Perris Raceway while doing some training aboard his Yamaha YZ250F dirt bike. Here’s what he had to say:

Yamaha American Superbike racer Josh Hayes
We caught up with Hayes at Perris Raceway in California.

Well we knew Daytona and Fontana weren’t going to be our best racetracks so Daytona was a little bit of a disaster. We were fast in practice leading up to the race and everything. But during the first race— it was my fault—I burned up the clutch and it definitely hurt our chances. I ran off the track trying to adjust a few things and change what I was doing. (Hayes finished 13th and 6th in his Daytona races). On the second day we had pretty good speed I think I did the fastest lap of the race. I’m always just happy to get out of there [Daytona] in one piece. I never come out of there really good so I was alright with that.
So then we went to Fontana which is another track that’s tough for us. And to come to a racetrack that is hard for me and to lead both races—I got a fourth and a second—I was really excited about the second place and congratulations to Tommy for his first superbike win. I tried to keep it from happening but he whooped my butt in the last few laps. So we’re coming out of there with a big group of us in the points. And it looks like it’s going to be an exciting season we’re about to roll into Road Atlanta which is typically a good racetrack for me and I’m looking forward to get back to it after a good Infineon test.
The rules package I don’t ever think that was ever a problem. I thought that the rules made it more affordable and easier for everyone to go racing and the bikes closer in performance and that was really good. So as far as that goes, I thought it was good to start with. Of course I wanted to ride full-blown superbikes like World Superbike because they’re just fun to ride. But I understand the economy and that we don’t really have 30 bikes that we can put on the grid in that condition. I think DMG or AMA Pro Racing has really turned around and done a really good job this season. In our first few races it’s a completely different feel and vibe in the paddock. And I’m really enjoying it and it makes racing a lot more fun again.

Josh Hayes and Jake Zemke duel - American Superbike Fontana Race 1
The factory R1s are still trying to shed some weight after AMA dropped the minimum weight for ’10.

Well I hate to say my R1 is slow because that’s not really the case. We’ve had some pretty good trap speeds. We’re just missing one little element somewhere in there— and some acceleration. It’s all kind of added to by the fact that they lowered the weight limit (Minimum weight for 4-cylinder motorcycles was reduced to 370 lbs post race for ‘10). It was a little tough and expensive to get the bike down and lower the weight which we’re working on. And I’m one of the bigger riders in the series. So you have a couple of bikes that are right at the weight limit with some really light riders that are 20 lbs. lighter than me and all these things kind of add up.
Yamaha is committed to winning. We rolled out of last year having won a bunch of races. And maybe we were a little too settled. Maybe we thought ‘Hey we’ve got a bike that is good enough to win races so we came in a little bit too cautious rather than going after it from the beginning. I know the boys are working hard for me and we’ve got some good ideas and some good plans and we’ll show up at the next few and see if we can start putting that thing back on top of the box again.

Yamaha American Superbike racer Josh Hayes
Part of Hayes training program entails getting out to one of Southen Cal’s many dirt bike tracks.

I rode two years in ‘04 and ‘05 on the 16.5s on the Attack bikes. Quite honestly I think that the 17-inch slicks are every bit as good or better. I really like the tires that we ride on. We’ve ridden on them in Superstock and I even preferred them on my Formula Extreme bikes when I rode with Honda. In Superbike the spec tire they offer us really is a really a phenomenal tire. I think the 600s stuff started off a little slow but it seems to be coming along. I rode them once and it definitely wasn’t my favorite tire. The first time I’ve been more confident on a Superbike than a 600 than [laughs] but I’ve heard they’ve come a long ways.
For one it’s just close to home and I’ve got so many years of laps around that racetrack. I started going there in 1994 when I started racing. It’s gone through quite a few evolutions as a racetrack and I’ve gone through quite a few evolutions of my riding. And it has been a pretty good event for me. A place where I can gather myself and find the best out of myself. It’s always fun to be back down south close to home where a lot of family and friends can come out. I’m looking forward to it.

Josh Hayes leads Tommy Hayden and Blake Young in American SuperBike Race 2 at Fontana.
Josh Hayes leads the American Superbike race at Auto Club Speedway.

Mat’s talent was for sure an asset to our series. It gave it a lot of credibility especially when you see what Ben Spies has gone to after racing with Mladin. I’ve tried to take every opportunity I could to learn as much as I’ve could from both just watching him and racing against him. I definitely think he added to the series.

There was always some kind of controversy and turmoil around Mat. Some people like that and follow it and some people are fine with letting that go away. I’m kind of indifferent to it. I really enjoyed racing the man. Like I said I was always learning from him. Now I’ve got to go about my learning process a little bit differently. We’re still kind of doing the same thing going through the same motions. He’s just not setting the benchmark out there.

Any given weekend those guys [Blake Young and Tommy Hayden] can be on. But I’ve seen both those guys pretty far off. It was just very, very rare to see Mat have a day-off one of those things about being a champion is reducing the bad day to not such a bad day. Even on his worst day he was still pretty damn impressive and hard to race against. Trying to raise your own game to that level is really, really tough and one of the things I tried to learn from him.

Yamaha American Superbike racer Josh Hayes
Yamaha American Superbike racer Josh Hayes
Yamaha American Superbike racer Josh Hayes
Hayes says that he loves riding MX as much or more than street bikes. Amen brother!

I started motocross so late. I started road racing when I was 19. I didn’t get to start motocrossing until I was 25-years-old so I was a pretty late bloomer when it came to motocross. But I love it. I love it as much or more than road racing [smiles]. I just enjoy riding so much.
There’s so much to learn and every single time I get on a motorcycle—especially riding around in Southern California there’s somebody faster at the racetrack and somebody I can watch that has good technique that I can learn from. I just enjoy it. Road racing we don’t get to practice very often it’s really expensive and it’s really hard to do. I can go motocross in Southern California here and I can ride a different prepped track everyday of the week if I want to. The old body doesn’t quite hold up to it so well [laughs].
I definitely try and get out and ride as much as I can. It’s not the same motions as road racing but I think it still probably one of the best cross-training I can do. Because for one, how much focus it requires to go about doing it and the physical exertion. If I can go motocross for half-an-hour a couple times a day than I can sure go out and ride a road race bike for half-an-hour and get the best out of myself.

It’s really hard to say I think they are both extremely difficult. Road racing is such a finesse game you’re riding such a fine line all the time. Motocross these guys can adapt and deal with something’s that are pretty amazing to me. They both have a lot to do with technique and the road racing thing comes a lot more naturally to me than the motocross. Maybe if started a lot longer I could have become a better motocrosser. I’d say they both have their challenges.